Texas Hill Country – Wednesday, February 9, 2011
I could have rocked a baby to sleep last night from the wind blowing against VANilla. The intensity seemed to increase hourly. By morning, snow was blowing sideways, virtually never hitting the ground. Petey wouldn’t even get out of VANilla to water a tree, and being on steroids, he generally wakes me to go out in the morning! Per my previous post, I decided to google BBQ and homemade donuts in Fredericksburg. I didn’t find the place from my childhood memories, but I did go to Fredericksburg Bakery, established in 1917, and famous for its Sweet German Pretzel made of twisted apple turnover dough with praline filling. Stepping out of the blistering wind into the warm bakery was a delight! Three local “oldtimers” sat around a table commenting that they could just stay there all day. With a view of Main Street and the weather treacherous, I couldn’t help interjecting that their stay might get interesting. Yes, they felt the snow was coming down harder. I left with a hot cup of coffee and a tasty, yet messy pretzel and headed toward Kerrville.
As a child, from the ages 8-12, I attended Camp Mystic nearby Kerrville, in Hunt, Texas. I decided to swing by my old, summer stomping grounds. Given we always took a six hour bus ride to camp and I was only 12, I really had no idea where it was. I just knew we passed by a few other camps and turned left into the entrance. I typed the address posted on Mystic’s website into Gina the GPS and followed the directions. Gina projected I would arrive at Mystic in just 18 minutes from Kerrville. That just didn’t seem right to me. The only time young campers got to go to Kerrville was usually for an illness that Mystic’s infirmary couldn’t handle. I went into town when I broke my tooth while eating spaghetti and it certainly seemed like it took longer than 18 minutes to get to the dentist. Oh, and yes I know it’s hard to believe I broke it on noodles, but I had witnesses when I bit down on an unexpected hard thing in my pasta…my tooth. Since the trip to Kerrville wasn’t usually for something good, the camp counselors would do something nice for us in town. The treat was generally anything we wanted at Sonic…the older kids recommended the Limeade. I passed the Sonic, drove 18 minutes, where Gina chimed that my destination was “approaching on RIGHT”. Nope, the GPS was NOT accurate. I drove a few miles further along the river beneath pecan trees where I found The Store (more on The Store later)…I knew I was getting close. I continued on, passed Camp Rio Vista, Camp La Junta, and others and finally arrived at Mystic on the LEFT…that’s more like it.
I rang the buzzer, introduced myself to the woman’s voice blaring through the speaker, and she let me through the gates. Petey, VANilla, and I took a short tour past Senior Hill, across the Guadalupe River, and to the old cabins I bunked in: Twins II, Chatterbox, Jumble House, and Bug House. We passed by the commissary, the dining hall, and the deck tennis courts. Deck tennis was one of my all-time favorite activities and Mystic is the only place where I have ever seen it played. It is played on what looks like a grass volleyball court and the rules are virtually the same as volleyball except a rubber ring replaces the ball and teammates catch and spike the ring versus setting and spiking the ball. Not far from deck tennis, is the building that hosted movie night, dance and drama productions, but more importantly the stage where each camper finds out if she will be a Tonk or a Kiowa. My sister Christian had been to camp the year before me and she was a Kiowa whose tribe colors were blue (my favorite color) and white. My other sister Liz and I were in our first year. The youngest campers went first. I got Tonk. I was SO upset! Red was my second favorite color, and I certainly didn’t want to be the only Tonk in the family. Much to my relief, Liz drew Tonk too! I think almost all my nieces ended up being Tonks as well. I wonder if Christian is upset she is the only Kiowa. Much of camp was similar to the way it used to be, but there were a few changes too. I didn’t see the gum tree…a tree by the dining hall where campers stuck their gum before entering for their meal. I’m guessing that is no longer allowed! I’m also guessing the “Chicken Letter” is still required to get lunch on Sunday. This ensured that all parents got a weekly letter! The Guadalupe River was beautiful. I couldn’t believe it. It was aqua color!?! I remembered it as green with moss, water moccasins, and snapping turtles. I took “Free Swim” as an activity and refused to get in the river…I was terrified of it. The only thing that got me into the water was the strong desire to sign up for canoeing. Campers weren’t allowed to take canoeing unless they had completed intermediate swimming which is basically a tryout. Everyone has to swim from the shore to the floating raft and back under a certain time. Of course, being the smallest kid in my class through the eighth grade, I was not a good swimmer and only qualified for advanced beginner!?! Ugh, I had swimming as an activity all summer and still no canoeing! I did get into canoeing once, but only because a counselor knew me from home and let me in the class without the proper credentials. I could tell a few more traumatic stories, like getting stung by the wasps, but for every crazy story, there were several more good ones like being Tonk Junior Assistant, cooking Smores, and playing countless sports which I loved! I got heavily involved in hunter/jumpers once I turned thirteen, so I had to give up camp along with soccer, softball, and basketball at an early age. I’m certain teenage campers would have completely different memories than me. I really would have liked to walk everywhere, just like I used to, but it was truly bitter cold…so cold in fact that the sliding door handle jammed and the lock froze as I let Petey out of VANilla, thus I couldn’t get the door closed! After working on the door for a few minutes with the camp foreman’s help, we walked about 200 hundred yards and simply returned to VANilla.
I was so eager to see Camp Mystic that I skipped The Store, so I had to backtrack to see if The Store still sold beef jerky. Big, pepper covered pieces used to hang by strings from the ceiling and posts. Tradition was to pick out a few pieces before heading home at the end of camp. Now the pieces are smaller and sit in an open plastic container…still not sanitary…but I bought a piece anyway. It was rather dry and leathery, but a little gnawing released the same good flavor.
Petey and I continued on to Lost Maples State Natural Area and to Garner State Park, but opted not to go for a hike. The sky crystal clear, the sun shining, and VANilla toasty warm made it seem like a walk would be nice…right up until I opened the door. Instead we stopped for roadside photos: a fence covered in boots, some longhorns, a windmill, and some deer. We even stopped at a historical marker which ended up being old graves, but I didn’t see any headstones. I did, however, see at least 100 deer today. More than the previous 100 days of my trip. About 75 of them were right at the entrance of Garner State Park. They simply sat in the trees as I drove by, but as soon as I stopped and reversed to shoot a photo, they scattered behind the bushes.
The Reader’s Digest Drive suggested stops in Utopia and Bandera before reaching San Antonio. I think the suggestions were made because there aren’t any other towns between Garner State Park and San Antonio! Utopia consisted of a general store, a few antique shops, a few churches, and perhaps a restaurant. Behind its historic Methodist Church in a pecan grove, the town has held outdoor dinners since the 1890s.
In Bandera, Petey and I took a quick walk around the Courthouse just to stretch our legs and then we stopped at the Frontier Times Museum. The museum was built in 1933 to house historian J. Marvin Hunter’s western collection. Hunter founded “Frontier Times”, a magazine recognizing history, border tragedy, and pioneer achievement. He finished construction of the museum by selling his books. Today a variety of relics are on display at the museum: an old dental chair, World Champion saddles, paintings, old bottle cappers, old pianos, and even an old switch board. The curator of the museum was from Ohio, which kind of surprised me. I only stopped briefly as Petey was in VANilla and the museum was small, but I had to make something out of this rotten day!
Around 3 o’clock, we headed toward Boerne to stay the night with my Aunt Mellie, Uncle Gary, and Chato. We had a lovely visit and dined on scrumptious shrimp scampi. Their house had a lovely view of the sunrise and deer regularly visited their yard. It was so nice to see them and catch up on family news. Tomorrow is a day of travel to the Big Bend Area. ETB